- Max Collins/Daily
BY THE HOCKEY BEAT
Daily Sports Writers
Published January 11, 2010
The offense has seen its share of ups and downs this season. Juniors Louie Caporusso, Carl Hagelin and Matt Rust have provided somewhat of a scoring punch. And freshman Chris Brown has been a solid contributor since day one. But the group as a whole has been inconsistent all season. In Michigan’s 12 wins, it scored 4.5 goals per game, and in the Wolverines 10 losses they scored just 1.4 goals per game. The success that they have had has come in large part against lesser teams. Michigan coach Red Berenson called his team “average” in five-on-five hockey and that’s what the offense has been. At times, the unit has looked great, and against ranked teams it has struggled to score. This group has improved lately, and if it can continue its recent success in the next few important CCHA series, then this grade will be higher at the end of the season.
Defense. Defense. Defense. It’s been a hallmark of past Michigan teams coached by Berenson, but this season the Wolverines have allowed an average of 2.36 goals per game, which is too high for a Michigan defense with four NHL draftees in Chris Summers, Steve Kampfer, Brandon Burlon and Greg Pateryn. And to think, this corps was supposed to be Michigan's best in recent history. Throughout the first half of the season, different parts of the defense have been weak. From its turnover-prone play leading to odd-man rushes to throwing the puck up the middle of the defensive zone, the defense has struggled to say the least. For the Wolverines to have any success in the upcoming weeks, it will need to elevate its defensive play in front of Hogan.
Junior Bryan Hogan has been the man between the pipes all season for Michigan — for better and for worse. At times he has dazzled and stood on his head for the Wolverines. But there have also been games that got away because Hogan couldn’t make the big saves. And even though he isn’t completely to blame, it will fall on him. Hogan’s 2.31 goals against average is good enough for 19th in the country and, to his credit, faces only about 20 shots per game. So his 90 percent save percentage may not be anything to write home about, but he hasn’t been the whole reason Michigan is floating around .500. The Wolverines don’t have an experienced option behind Hogan. And Berenson has stuck with him throughout the season with the only exception being in Michigan’s Great lakes Invitational loss to RPI. That should be the trend for the rest of the season.
As hard as it is to evaluate coaching in college hockey, it’s even harder to discredit a coach as accomplished as Red Berenson. Berenson has two national championships under his belt and has reached the Frozen Four 10 times. But this season isn’t shaping up to be the 11th. The Wolverines take ill-advised penalties every game and, at times, seem to lack a strong leadership presence. Berenson’s team hasn’t missed the 20-win mark since the 1986-87 season, and though Michigan probably won’t miss that mark this year, they might inch the line. The coach has made a lot of adjustments, starting with line changes aplenty, all season long. It’s clearly a rough year so far for Berenson, so cut him some slack. But remember, this 12-10 team is still his responsibility.
Special Teams: B+
Michigan’s power play has been suspect all year, failing at times to generate any quality scoring opportunities or traffic in front opposing net minders with the man-advantage. As of late, though, the unit is improving, as the Wolverines scored five power play goals this past weekend in their sweep of Western Michigan. It currently sits in fourth in the CCHA at just over a 20 percent success rate.
On the other hand, the Wolverines’ penalty kill is one of the best in the country — third place to be exact — at 90 percent. Junior forwards Matt Rust and Carl Hagelin lead the aggressive unit on the front end while senior Chris Summers spearheads the defense. And because Michigan is shorthanded about 17 minutes every game — something Berenson has voiced his disappointment in all season — having a stellar penalty kill unit will be key for the second half of the season.